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Plastic laryngeal foreign bodies in children: a diagnostic challenge.

OBJECTIVE: To review Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center experience with pediatric airway foreign bodies, and examine the incidence and treatment of laryngeal foreign bodies. To determine if plastic laryngeal foreign bodies present differently than other laryngeal foreign bodies.

METHODS: A retrospective review of all cases of children (1874 patients) undergoing direct laryngoscopy and/or bronchoscopy from 1st January 1997 to 9th September 2003 at a tertiary care children's hospital. Patients with endoscopically documented laryngeal foreign bodies were identified and the medical record reviewed in more detail. Patient age, gender, foreign body location, foreign body type, duration of foreign body presence, radiographic findings, endoscopic findings and treatment complications were recorded.

RESULTS: One hundred and five aspirated foreign bodies were identified. The nine laryngeal foreign bodies included five clear plastic radiolucent items, two radiolucent food items, and two sharp radioopaque pins. Time to diagnosis and treatment was on average 11.6 days with 17.6 days for thin/plastic foreign bodies and 1.6 days for metal/food foreign bodies.

CONCLUSION: Laryngeal foreign bodies represent a small portion of all pediatric airway foreign bodies. Difficulty in identifying laryngeal foreign bodies, especially thin, plastic radiolucent foreign bodies can delay treatment. Thin plastic foreign bodies can present without radiographic findings, can be difficult to image during endoscopy and can be particularly difficult to diagnose. A history of choking and vocal changes is associated with laryngeal foreign bodies. Laryngeal foreign bodies should be in the differential diagnosis of all children presenting with atypical upper respiratory complaints especially if a history suggestive of witnessed aspiration and dysphonia can be obtained.

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